Emily Chaney and Chris Rasmussen got tired of staring at an empty 20,000-square-foot parking lot in their Wheat Ridge neighborhood.
So, rather than wait for it to get redeveloped, the couple has decided to lease the lot and a 300-square-foot kiosk stand at 6875 W. 38th Ave. It was previously home to Bradley Petroleum, but has been vacant for two years.
This summer Chaney, a Denver native, plans to open Strong Island with Rasmussen, who moved here 20 years ago, as executive chef.
“Chris has been a chef in the city for a long time and ended up losing his job during COVID,” Chaney said. “We kept him home because he’s diabetic, but then we were like ‘What are we going to do now?’ There’s a need for more outdoor space in Wheat Ridge, and this was a dead space in the neighborhood. So, we wanted to activate it again.”
Strong Island, named after Rasmussen’s hometown of Long Island, will be home to Rasmussen’s permanent food trailer called Bigg Chris’ Burgers. He will serve classic East Coast sandwiches with bacon, egg, cheese, salt, pepper and ketchup on a Kaiser roll in the morning, and hot dogs and burgers for lunch and dinner.
Rasmussen, 43, was previously executive chef of the Roxy on Broadway and worked for Juan Padro’s local Tap and Burger chain before that. Chaney, 46, will continue to work full-time as a realtor at BSW Real Estate, but has hired a bar manager to run the kiosk.
“I love burgers and how much you can do with them. You can go Italian or Asian using the same base, which is cost effective,” Rasmussen said.
There will also be room for three rotating food trucks, which the couple has not secured yet, plus bathrooms and a bar in the 300-square-foot former gas station kiosk, which will serve Long Island-themed cocktails, like Long Island iced tea and a Kool-Aid-based drink named after Long Island native LL Cool J.
“We’ve seen food truck parks in Portland and San Francisco,” Chaney said. “And Denver has things kind of like that downtown, like Improper City, but nothing that’s really based on liquor licensing for a food truck, which is what Wheat Ridge worked with us to do. Other liquor licenses exist where you can have a kitchen on-site, but this is the first where they’ve allowed us to liquor license a food trailer.”
The couple hopes to open Strong Island by June and will set up some picnic tables, fencing and a bocce ball court. They want to be open five days a week, most likely Wednesday through Sunday, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Eventually, Chaney and Rasmussen hope to find seasonal uses for the parking lot, such as selling pumpkins for Halloween and Christmas trees in the winter.
“Our theory is you put out picnic tables and food, and people will come, and it will grow from there organically,” Chaney said.
“Wheat Ridge has delicious food, but there’s not a whole lot of outdoor patios or new concepts,” Rasmussen said. “We’re going to bring food trucks from all over the state to offer more variety and outdoor options.”